“Sickness, disease, plague and pox, suffering and the slow, living rot. Such wondrous gifts does Nurgle seek to bestow upon the unworthy human cattle of the Imperium. We are merely the vectors by which his virulent beneficence may be spread to the undeserving masses”
– Urgloth Rotheart, Plague Champion of the Death Guard.
So, having cast my eye over the Space Marines in the Dark Imperium boxset, now we turn our attention to Mortarion’s sons, the plague infested legion of the Death Lord and the most devoted of Nurgle’s followers; the Death Guard. Move over loyalist scum – this is the real release that I’m excited about!
Lord of Contagion
Chaos worshipper’s being a fractious lot there was always going to need to be someone in charge who could stamp their authority on the Nurgly warriors in this boxset. Indeed, in a generous move on GW’s part, we get three of them. Of those three however it doesn’t take an expert to spot which one is in overall command. A hulking warrior-king glad in slab-like Terminator armour the Lord of Contagion stands out at a glance and will be both a staple of painting contests and an imposing presence on the tabletop for years to come. Expect to see this guy showing up at Golden Daemon a lot (don’t worry – as an entry, not a contestant!).
In a recent interview sculptor Maxime Pastourel said he intended the model to be a 40k iteration of the Brian Nelson Nurgle Lord, justly regarded as a modern classic. However, in spite of some superficial similarities – they’re both champions of the Plague God with distended guts, pitted armour and outsized axes – there’s not a huge crossover between the two. The Nurgle Lord is a paragon of simplicity, without frills or fussy details. Its strength is its minimalism, without a single extraneous element. It’s this that makes it so popular with convertors, to the extent that it is often joked that everyone in the world has converted at least one.
The Lord of Contagion however is the exact opposite of this. It’s hard to imagine anyone but the most talented and dedicated making much of it as the basis for conversions, and it’s decked out with the kind of details that will have painters rejoicing and convertors tearing their hair in frustration. What it is however is an outstanding example of the sort of single figure plastic characters that GW excels at.
Having said that I couldn’t help but stand it next to the leader of my Nurgle army, Ghisguth the Reaper. Once an impressive figure (in my eyes at least), poor Ghisguth now seems a little on the small side (a recurring theme throughout this release you may have noticed). Next to this rival his chances of remaining in charge for long look almost as poor as Theresa May’s (and the similarities don’t end there – just look at the scythe I’ve armed him with, you wouldn’t let him anywhere near a field of wheat either). Thus I find myself wondering about the potential of converting a new version of Ghisguth from the Lord of Contagion. It wouldn’t require any major changes to the new model, which is a relief as anything more than altering a few details looks to be hideously difficult. It’s also fair to say that I really like the original model so making any major alterations risks destroying the character of the piece that I loved to begin with. However, the one downside I see in the excellent HQ figures released in GW’s starter sets is that their popularity soon means one is bombarded with them – every greenskin army in the world contains this Ork warboss for example. By making at least some changes, I get around the problem of having the same centrepiece figure as everyone else – after all, it was a desire to own unique models that drew me to Chaos in the first place!
Could this be my favourite model in the box? That would be a high honour, and the competition is stiff, but there’s no denying this is an impressive figure. There is a restrained horror to the model, the hideous diseases and weird mutations that presumably wrack it are hinted at, but never openly shown, which allows the imagination to glut itself on the possibilities. What vileness is concealed behind the heavy iron mask or sagging apron? Rather than just showing us the sculptors allow us to draw our own conclusions, a move which displays a real maturity on their part. Anyone can splatter greenstuffed guts around the place but in their moderation and self-discipline they have created a model of lasting impact and quality.
What’s more the bells that swing at the model’s sides, and most obviously the great sweep of bone above his head, give the Blightbringer a real elegance – not a word often associated with Nurgle but definitely applicable here. The bell itself has a genuine sense of weight, you can imagine it rocking slowly back and forth in time with the monstrous space marine’s trudging steps.
Those wanting to add a second Blightbringer to their army could adjust the angle of the bell or, by carefully cutting away the mask, give the model a headswap. The bell itself would look magnificent mounted atop almost any Nurgle vehicle you can imagine (tanks, dreadnaughts, palanquins etc) or as a piece of terrain or objective marker.
The one element I don’t find particularly necessary are the maggots which crawl over the model’s pitted armour. What do they bring to it that wouldn’t exist without them? To my eye they look like a box ticking exercise, as though the model fell short on some supposed scale of disgustingness, and could be raised a few percentage points towards a preset repugnance threshold through the addition of a few wriggling larva. Take them away and the mind is drawn back to all that is hidden from view and all the revolting possibilities thus contained.
And then they went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like “Hey, we need an extra model, this one will do!” The poor old Malignant Plaguecaster has crawled from the Garden of Nurgle into a torrent of universal distain, cheap jokes and general abuse. There’s no denying that it’s a hard model to love, seemingly cobbled together from a grab bag of bad ideas into one disappointing whole. From the weird baby face to the silly-looking headgear, from the staff – apparently borrowed from the Sylvaneth – to the farty lump representing some kind of spell, it’s a mish-mash of failed ideas that somehow manages to be even worse than the sum of its parts.
Seen from the side the cape is revealed, another attempt to make this model flashier than it should have been. Clearly intended to echo the shape of a fly’s wings, and balance out the spell effect, it instead adds another dimension of mistakes to an already troubled miniature. Capes billowing out at head height are an effect that many sculptors have attempted over the years but none have succeeded at and this model was never going to be the place that it suddenly came into its own.
Overall then this is a model which would have benefited greatly from a more conservative approach. Rather than attempting to show off GW could simply have copied the old Forge World Nurgle sorcerer, creating a model which was both a highly customisable blank canvas for convertors and a striking miniature in its own right.
The question that thousands of Nurgle fans across the globe are currently asking themselves is; can it be saved? Personally I’m fairly certain it can and intend to attempt just that, so check back over the next few weeks to see how I get on.
Moving on to more instantly appealing models we have the Plague Marines. On the Nurgle side of the box these form the core of the set, the lynchpin around which the rest of the army is built. Nail this and any mistakes elsewhere can be forgiven, mess it up the whole release starts to look like a flop. Did they manage it? With Maxime Pastourel, the man who made the Plague Bones, as lead sculptor? Of course they managed it! After putting up with frankly less than impressive Plague Marines for years these are a revelation and a true joy to see at last.
The sheer amount of detail that’s been packed into them is astounding. Each one is a character in his own right, hulking brutes festooned with elements that combine to instantly characterise them as the ten-thousand year old plague infested warriors they are. The only downside is that, much like the Chosen from the Dark Vengeance box, they look to be a real headache to convert – although far from impossible – but I’ve not given up hope that a multi-part kit is somewhere in our future. What is exciting is the way that some components have been re-used, meaning that – in a huge improvement on previous boxsets – even without making any adjustments every one of these Plague Marines is unique. Those wanting to take things further should look to the Putrid Blightkings, the ever reliable workhorse of Nurgle kits – some wonderfully disgusting conversions await!
Standing next to my old Plague Marines the new models look positively gigantic, although the blame for that lies with the shortness of the old models who barely reach the shoulder of the lowly cultists that serve them.
Even my beloved (although as yet unfinished) ‘tall’ Plague Marines come up a little small next to these chaps, matching them in height but not in bulk.
My converted Plague Terminators still have the edge in terms of size although there’s not a lot in it. Of course I’m still praying (in a suitably filthy and germ-infested fane!) for an official Plague Terminators kit, whilst at the same time worrying that it’ll make my lovingly converted models look as stunty as the finecast Plague Marines do next to their new plastic brothers. Ah the complex duality of being a Chaos fan!
Of course having painted a second edition Plague Marine last week we can now take a look at a family photo charting the development of Nurgle’s followers down the years. The newcomers may be bigger and more impressive but they’re still models that recall their history from the spidery arms of their backpacks to the tips of their hooves.
In spite of being considerably bigger than the previous incarnation of the Plague Marines however these models don’t quite match the Primaris marines for height, at least partly because they still lack the fully developed abdomen of their loyalist cousins. It’s not a major issue, the quality of the models is so high it’s easy to overlook and the bloated guts cover up most of the abdomen anyway, but it’s something GW will have to watch when they come to working on the World Eaters and Emperor’s Children (which given the long lead in time required to create these models probably happened long ago).
On Sunday Games Workshop announced the first follow up release to bolster the contents of Dark Imperium. Alongside a new Captain and Librarian we see the new Space Marine Reivers who wear leering skull masks intended to inspire terror in their enemies. What was it Konrad Curze said about death being nothing compared to vindication? Don’t worry Konrad, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
More excitingly however we also saw new Plague Marines, each easily the equal of those included with Dark Imperium.
What’s as yet unclear however is how many models will be included in these new boxsets. At the time of writing only three have been revealed and none of them look like this chap. Hopefully that means a multipart kit is still waiting for us over the coming months but as yet we have to wait and see.
The biggest model in the entire set, and therefore one that was bound to grab attention, is the Foetid Bloat-Drone. Again this is an outstanding model, the fly icon on the carapace is an excellent touch whilst the three spiked-turbines – echoing the shape of Nurgle’s sigil – gives it an instantly striking and recognisable silhouette. It’s also a real chimera, combining elements of the organic and mechanical with considerable flair. Look over it and you’ll spot elements that suggest both buzzing insect and bloated, earth-grubbing mammal, drifting sea-creature and archaic machinery. In spite of this it remains a tightly co-ordinated model, without any unnecessary details, making it another example of the kind of blank canvas that convertors of all stripes will love. I’m already pondering how easy it would be to remove the spikes and horns and turn it back into whatever Mechanicum engine it originated as, before Nurgle started to mutate it (the fleshy belly would be a problem – but not an insurmountable one…). Those thinking even bigger might start to wonder how the front part of the model – from the fly icon forward, without the turbines, guns or trailing cables – would look as the head of a corrupted Knight.
Using something slightly more unusual as the vehicle kit was always going to be a gamble (people know where they stand with a dreadnaught and those who know what they like and like what they know may have raised an eyebrow at this) but they pulled it off with aplomb. By putting the weirdness front and centre have stamped their creativity very firmly on this set, whilst still remaining true to the Death Guard’s roots and providing the fans with plenty of “wish list” kits, the kind of thing we’ve been banging on about wanting to see for years all wrapped up in a single straightforward kit.
Of course the Bloat-drone is a plastic reinvention of Forge World’s classic Blight Drone (now known as a “Greater Blight Drone” – presumably to differentiate it further from the Bloat-drone). It’s something that GW have made use of many times before, using Forge World as a test bed for new ideas from the Trygon to Heresy-era Space Marine armour. Who knows, perhaps when they get around to a full World Eaters release we’ll see plastic Blood Slaughterers as well. A man can dream eh!
It’s easy to wax lyrical over the qualities of the new GW but for Chaos fans there is a particular joy in this box. For how long have we been putting up with our ancient plague marine models and wishing, but never believing, that we might someday see Zombies or Blight Drones in plastic? Yet throughout most of that time extracting a single scrap of corrupted power armour from Citadel’s forges has been a particularly arduous exercise in pulling teeth. Now, after what’s felt like ten millennia of fighting over scraps and kitbashing loyalist models with bits of daemons, the Great Rift has torn reality from here to Nottingham and the models we’ve been crying out for have started to spill out.
For some time now Nurgle’s legions have been described marching to war preceded by a shambling host of infected corpses; the Plague Zombies. Spread by Typhus, the Death Guard’s most famous son after the Primarch himself, the infection reanimates the dead and sends them lurching towards their former allies in the sort of terrifying horde familiar to horror movie fans everywhere. In the most recent Chaos Marines codex these zombies could be created as an upgrade to chaos cultists, if Typhus himself was in play, but models were not forthcoming. Instead players converted their own, often mixing parts from the Imperial Guard range with the zombies from Warhammer’s Vampire Counts range – itself almost ten thousand years old. Until recently I was pondering making my own by applying greenstuff to Cadians – and then the Poxwalkers arrived and saved the day.
Slightly more nuanced than simple zombies, these combine elements of Nurgle cultists and mutants with the living dead, leading one to surmise that – whilst some are undoubtedly unwilling victims of Nurgle’s afflictions – others have gleefully embraced their infections. Brilliantly they also include lots of visual references to the Plague Bearers, suggesting that their eventual fate is to become part of Nurgle’s daemonic legions.
Some, like this one, are simply brilliant little character sketches, packed with the kind of personality that we’re used to seeing from GW’s character models.
This little chap just wants to be as cool and iconic as his big brother.
Others seem faintly ridiculous, the various tentacles and appendages flailing around without any apparent common direction to suggest co-ordinated motion. Of course zombies are given to shambling awkwardly, no-one ever heard of a lithe or balletic zombie, but a unified direction at least is vital to creating a sense of threat. Many of the Poxwalkers appear to be looking right at you, plotting behind that rictus grin how to cross the distance between you and them as quickly as their rotting limbs will allow and mess you up as badly as fate has messed them up. This one however appears to be doing the hokey-cokey.
A bit of snipping and slicing went a long way towards improving him though, taking away or adjusting those elements which deviated from the direction of the model’s gaze. The result, hopefully, is something with an appearance of singular purpose and threat.
Meanwhile, this one is appears to be wearing some kind of chem-suit, presumably designed for use in the most hostile of environments, but still utterly wasted against Nurgle.
The one thing I really dislike about this one is the gas tank swinging at his side, a feature which only serves to make the model look ungainly without bringing any positive benefits. Cue some more swift converting as the gas tank is snipped off and a new one added (taken from the Kharadron Overlords). Whilst I was about it I adjusted the positioning of the knife he’s carrying to make him a little more aggressive and a little less flailing.
When I first saw the Poxwalkers this disparity between the models I loved and the ones that jarred with me left me dissatisfied by the whole set. However after I spotted this chap I started to rethink a little.
Painted by Nic over at the Mystarikum this is a rather grubbier Poxwalker than those produced by ‘Eavy Metal. It’s also, in my opinion, a rather more fitting look for them, the clean, sharp style preferred by ‘Eavy Metal doing no favours to these filthy walking corpses.
Those planning a Poxwalker horde over their own should also take a look at WilhelMiniatures. Wilhelm has toned his models down considerably in comparison to the exotically mutated originals, to create a set of nicely restrained zombies. Even if you want to keep the crazy mutations among your own ranks I’d still highly recommend following his progress – after all a bit of variety is a must in any zombie horde.
Back in March Games Workshop announced a forthcoming Death Guard release and, in spite of the many Nurgle worshipping models in the Dark Imperium boxset, it’s safe to say that this isn’t it. Various models shown in the video remain unaccounted for, this Plague Marine for example, which suggests a further release is still to come.
Precisely what models will emerge alongside said release remains a topic of hot debate wherever fans of the Plague God are gathered together. Just as the Thousand Sons release included both Ahriman and the Primarch Magnus the Red so it seems likely that a new model for Typhus will appear alongside the Primarch Mortarion – a character widely referenced in recent 40k fiction. A multi-part Plague Marines box seems likely, Plague Terminators would be a safe bet and many people have pointed to the similarity between the grub-like monstrosities appearing alongside the Death Guard in recent artwork and hints shown in GW’s “Rumour Engine” promotional material. Of course a new model for the Great Unclean Ones would also be wonderful. Allow me, however, to suggest another contender for a forthcoming release. Alongside all the wonderful miniatures I’ve been pouring over in the last two posts the Dark Imperium box contains the full rulebook for Warhammer 40,000. Those with a copy handy should turn to pages 159 and 161 which detail, respectively, the forces engaged in the Plague Wars of Ultramar and the Fall of Cadia. Alongside the familiar Nurgle forces we find reference to Blight Towers – most likely a new name for the Plague Towers of Nurgle – and two Pestigor Legions.
Youngsters may be scratching their heads at this but older hands may remember that the beastmen of Chaos once contained four distinct breeds, one for each of the Gods. Slaangors served Slaanesh, Tzaangors Tzeentch, Bloodgors or Khorngors Khorne and Pestigors Nurgle. With the Tzaangors unexpectedly resurrected alongside the Silver Tower release and then gathered into the fold of the Thousand Sons Legion it suddenly seems entirely possible that the Plague God’s cloven followers will soon join them, especially given their unexpected referencing in the fiction. Time to resurrect my Bloodgor conversions I think…
As for the Blight Towers this may simply be a reference to an old Epic model that’s continued to pop up in the background but, given that Plague Towers had rules in Apocalypse until very recently and that the Lord of Skulls demonstrates GW’s willingness to experiment with god-specific super heavy vehicles, it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility that a new kit might be on its way for these as well. I’m not holding my breath for them mind you but if I was a betting man then the Pestigors would have my money.
Passing On The Infection
So now it’s over to you. Do you love the new models with an uncritical passion, or should I face the Emperor’s judgment for expressing such heretical views. Do you think I’m talking rot (boom boom!) or do you already have some pestilent models in the works? The comment’s box, as ever, is your stage and soapbox.
All images are either mine, credited to their respective creators or belong to Games Workshop. Let the galaxy burn!